The showing was on a Sunday night of an old Bollywood movie at the Lawrence family JCC. Not a popular topic or a popular time in San Diego. That’s why I wasn’t expecting much, I was invited, I had a pass, I figured I’d go. Low expectations often lead to large accolades.
The 500 seat auditorium was more than half filled, pretty good for a Sunday. About a third of the audience were local Indian families. The entire JDC Entwine India trip alumni from San Diego came for the movie showing of Shree 420, a 1955 Bollywood tribute to Charlie Chaplin.
I wasn’t overly thrilled about going to the festival expecting another event where I am either left out of the age group or surrounded by single Jews looking for love but I was partially wrong. After 25 years, the San Diego Jewish Film Festival is a staple of the community which has become recognized by the Jewish community around the world and thus deserves more than just my attention, it deserves of lots of people’s attention.
The event lasts for nearly ten days with theaters across the city screening movies old and new. The event on Sunday began with a recounting of Jewish roots of Bollywood. Like Hollywood, Bollywood was pioneered by the Jewish community of Mumbai. The story telling, was not done using boring slides, but through Bollywood dancing. Each period of Bollywood was shown, not told by dance troops performing scenes from past movies, live in front of the crowd.
The performance set the mood for the actual movie, Shree 420, which masterfully, (although somewhat slowly for some Americans as it was an old movie) told the story of a Charlie Chaplin-like character surviving in the slums of Bombay, his conflict with the treachery of the rich, the struggle between honesty and cheating and the effect of profiting through lies has on one’s soul. Charlie Chaplin himself would have been proud of Raj Kapoor, India’s superstar. Although, I think both, the star Raj Kapoor and Charlie Chaplin would be disappointed to find out that things have changed little in the financial capital of India, and rest of the world for that matter.
The film festival continues for a week, with shorts and full feature films touching on life in Israel, United States, Holocaust, sex trade and anything else that any human might feel. Some are better, some are worse but all movies I saw made me think and feel.
Like when the Olympian and winner of Macabbi games, Mark Spitz, proved that Maccabi games is not a separate venue for Jews to compete but a celebration of true Jewish athletes, same goes for the Jewish Film Festival. Born in the gym of JCC 25 years ago, Joyce Axelrod has created a San Diego institution that has created a Film Festival showcasing of well made starter and veteran films with Jews, by Jews and about Jews rather than a separate film forum for Jews. I hope the festival founders will now begin to promote the movies rather than the festival itself, after all, what other reason to attend one is there? The Jews see enough Jewish stuff, so when we go to a festival, it is for the movies that make us see a different world, new people, create new feelings from watching things we have not seen told through masterful story telling. This is why Yael Jhirad, visiting from Mumbai plans to create a Jewish Film Festival in India to educate India about Indian Jews. Because that’s what we as humans crave, that’s why we go to the movies and that’s why people should know about the film festival, because it offers something that many would love to see, feel and know and otherwise wouldn’t experience.
On another note, what I least expected was to see at the festival was Yael Jhirad, Mumbai, India. She and her husband showed me the Jewish Mumbai and her story to San Diego, of our meeting and of her family is something completely separate.